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Tandem Cycling A bicycle built for two. Want to find out more about this wonderful world of tandems? Check out this forum to talk with other tandem enthusiasts. Captains and stokers welcome!

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Old 01-31-04, 03:27 PM   #1
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who rides in front?

My spouse and I are about 10 inches apart in height. Both of us are strong riders on our road bikes.

We want to buy a stock, entry level tandem.

Both of us want the front!

Who gets it? The taller/stronger? The smaller (so she doesnt have to stare at my back?) ? Does it matter?

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Old 01-31-04, 04:07 PM   #2
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Who looks better from behind?
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Old 01-31-04, 05:18 PM   #3
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The captain needs to be able to hold the tandem upright at a stop. No necessarily the strongest cyclist but the strongest in arm strength, IMHO. Also, putting the taller rider in front will be better for aerodynamics.
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Old 01-31-04, 06:06 PM   #4
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It's really a moot point. If you're 10" apart in height and are both strong cyclists, you'll find it nearly impossible to find a "stock" upright tandem that would fit your wife in the captain's position while giving you a proper fit and enough reach in back as the stoker.

Even if you expanded your shopping list to include a custom-sized frame, it would be a tough fit and I'm still not sure your wife would be able to handle the workload as captain given your height.

Back to the basic question...

All things being equal, the key attributes of a captain are:
1. good bicycle handling skills
2. good communication skills
3. the ability to subordinate their skills for their stoker when necessary
4. adequate upper body strength for any given stoker who will ride with them on the tandem
5. large enough body mass to allow the stoker to ride in their draft

While some tandem teams could get around the "captain holds up the tandem" scenario by adopting a synchronized start and stop technique (as opposed to what Bill McCready has coined as "the proper method"), the one thing that can't be worked around is the upper body strength requirement. More specifically, the taller the stoker is and/or the higher they carry body mass the greater their influence on how hard/fatiguing it will be for the captain to control the tandem.

The three most demanding circumstances are:

1. Countersteering to arrest the momentum created when a tandem is leaned over into a hard turn and to stand the tandem back-up to complete the cornering manuever. The higher up a stoker carries their weight, the more pronounced the momentum will be, thus the greater the effort required on the part of the captain. This is why most captains find themselves to be much more fatigued on fast, twisting mountain tandem descents than when doing the same descents alone on their personal bikes.

2. Countering unintentional but very normal side-to-side movements or weight shifts by the stoker with countersteering inputs. More specifically, when a stoker leans over to grab a water bottle, turns around above the waist or extends an arm outward from the bike the CG shift to one side and causes the tandem to lean over a bit. When a bicycle or tandem leans to one side or the other, the front wheel will want to turn the opposite way and initiate a turn in the direction the bike or tandem was leaned towards, aka, the wiggles that you feel on a tandem. To keep the tandem going in a straight line the captain must counter the front wheel movement with handlebar inputs and you'd be amazed at much of this you do, almost without thinking, as a tandem captain. Again, the taller or higher the mass is on the stoker the more pronounced these movements become and the more effort it takes to counter them.

3. Standing & climbing or sprinting out of the saddle. All bets are off on this since some teams are smoother than others. However, in a worse-case-scenario where the team is not smooth or likes to throw a bike back and forth as they climb or sprint holding it to a straight line can be a bear.

Most tandem captains who have never had to pilot a tall or top-heavy stoker will not have an appreciation for how challenging or fatiguing these things can be. Me, I thank my lucky stars that my Debbie is a little china-doll. I've ridden with taller "quest stokers" on board our off-road tandem and it always comes as a rude awakening when I realize how much I take for granted on the size differential. My hat is off to the captains who routinely pilot tandems with tall and/or tall and large stokers. Again, it's the height of the mass that gets you.

Last edited by livngood; 02-01-04 at 11:27 AM.
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Old 01-31-04, 07:46 PM   #5
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It's who's up front that counts??

Howdy from Tucson!
If you are looking for a stock production tandem , 99 per cent are built for the taller person to take the front seat.
Remember tandeming is about TEAM work! Besides, stoker gets to pinch your buns if you screw up!
Pedal on TWOgether!
Rudy & Kay/Zona tandem
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Old 02-02-04, 11:47 AM   #6
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Couple of points.

This idea that the view from the back seat never changes is just plain wrong. When we ride together my wife is the one who tells me that the view is especially inspiring off to one side or the other. Without her advice my observations would be limited to the view of the road ahead.

Several years ago the Midwest Tandem Rally was held in Omaha. They had a local radio jock to act as a master of ceremonies. With about 350 tandem teams assembled, he asked how many had the woman in front. Two teams responded, but one of them had a blind stoker.
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Old 02-02-04, 02:28 PM   #7
Time for a change.
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Originally Posted by ernestocolnago
Who gets it? The taller/stronger? The smaller (so she doesnt have to stare at my back?) ? Does it matter?
I hate to say it, but you will find out who gets the front, by the way the Tandem handles.

I bought my tandem, I maintain it, I pay for the parts, so it is only natural that I should take the important job up front.
I had a marvellous stoker. Good and strong, legs and stamina of an ox, But if I asked for power then that was what I got. A lot of it all at once. Admittedly offroad, but I never knew what would go first, the front wheel in an understeer. or the rear breaking away under power. Just to show Stuart The problems he was causing me, I put him on the front. I don't know if it is because I am a rotten pilot, or because the bike handles better with the heavier rider up front, But I am now a fully fledged and accomplished stoker.

I do act as pilot for two other riders, One does not have the confidence up front, and the other I would not trust with a tricycle (No disrespect to the Tandem Or Trike riders about, but I do mean the Kiddies sort).

For the one that Does finish up in the important seat, Make certain that you have enough body deodorant to keep the rearend fresh of the front rider in front, or get away from the head down pose that supposedly makes the bike work better.
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